Donald Pleasance might be known for playing bad guys such as Dr. Blofeld in You Only Live Twice, but in real life he served honorably in World War II.
Pleasance had intended to be an actor from a young age and left school before graduating to chase that dream. He was accepted into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art but was unable to cover the expenses. However, he was able to secure a position of assistant stage manager at the Playhouse on Jersey and was on his way to a career in the theatre.
He made his theatrical debut in Wuthering Heights just before World War II broke out. The times were such, however, that his life took a detour into service.
As a conscientious objector, Pleasance wasn’t expected to take up arms for his country. However, he had a change of heart and decided to join the British Royal Air Force (RAF). While playing Curio in Twelfth Night in 1942, he had to leave the stage behind to take up military service in the RAF.
While on a raid on Agenville in August 1944 with 166 Squadron, RAF Bomber Command, Pleasance was shot down. He was incarcerated and tortured in German POW camp Stalag Luft I, where he was a prisoner of the Nazis until his release in 1945.
However, even while incarcerated, Pleasance loved to act. He organized a theatre company among the prisoners where plays were produced and acted.
Once home, Pleasance got his start in the theaters of England and Scotland, even sharing the stage with Alec Guinness in The Brothers Karamazov.
After a few small roles on both the big and small screens, Pleasance snared his big break in 1963’s The Great Escape. Life reflected art as he played Flight Lieutenant Colin Blythe in a story which took place mostly within a German POW camp.